Monday, October 21, 2013

A Slap in the Face or a Smack on the Wrist?

People in and out of Singapore were quite intrigued recently by the no-show display of both Chinese leaders President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang when they by-passed Singapore in their visits to South East Asian countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand and Vietnam before attending summit meetings in the region.Since Indonesia and Malaysia are so close to Singapore (一水之隔), one would expect that it was a matter of utmost courtesy for the two top Chinese leaders to include Singapore in their itinerary unless it was intended as some kind of a snub for whatever reason. To add to the conundrum, neither the Chinese leaders nor the thoughtful Singapore Government  thought it necessary to enlighten the people , both in and out of Singapore. So it was allowed to continue to be enigmatic and Singaporeans cannot be faulted if they were found to indulge themselves in trying to find a plausible and credible reason for the apparent display of discourtesy by the two top Chinese leaders.

It will not be inappropriate to recall that our comical PM Lee Hsien Loong had in his inimitable way insulted the Chinese by his brilliant diplomatic display during his visit to the United States of America at a dinner given in his honour by the American business community in April this year. He told the august American audience that in Shanghai when one turned on the tap one could get pork soup, a sarcastic allusion to the massive pig carcasses found floating in a river in China. Next he said sarcastically that one could get free smoke when one opened the window in China, an allusion to the severe air pollution in China. He thought it was funny but the Chinese were not amused and could only consider it a sick joke aimed at humiliating them, considering the standing of the American audience. It could  just be possible that the Chinese leaders have not forgotten nor forgiven PM Lee for his insult and the skipping of Singapore from their itinerary is just a way of showing their disgust.

It may or may not be a valid assumption. Some political analysts were reported by the Lianhe Zaobao today (21 Oct) to say that the skipping of Singapore from their itinerary by the two Chinese leaders did not mean that the position of Singapore could not be compared with other countries in the eyes of the Chinese. They cited the visit in October of the Chinese Vice-Premier Zhang Gaoli to Singapore as one reason for the two Chinese leaders to skip Singapore as it was not considered consistent with diplomatic practice for more than one high-level leader to visit the same country within a short period. Frequent mutual visits of high-level Singapore and Chinese leaders were said to be another possible reason. So was the visit in August to China by PM Lee who met President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang . Until we get a clarification from the two Chinese leaders which may never come Singaporeans are left with no viable alternative but to determine from what is known about PM Lee's insult and the theory advanced by the political analysts. PM Lee would not be able to know if his insult is still the determining factor in the mind of the two top Chinese leaders.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

The grotesque behaviour of Mr. Ngiam Tong Dow

Mr. Ngiam Tong Dow needs no introduction to Singaporeans as he is a well-known retired top civil servant of very high social standing. He was permanent secretary of a number of Government ministries, including Finance, and had held the position of Head, Civil Service. In recent years he has also been known to be outspoken against various policies and practices of the Government. Many Singaporeans, especially some from the opposition parties, have looked upon him, because of his sociopolitical eminence, as some kind of a potent critiquer  of the PAP Government, adding not a little impetus to the anti-PAP chorus.

So when Mr. Ngiam Tong Dow was interviewed by Dr. Toh Han Chong, editor of the Singapore Medical Association (SMA) News, which was in a question and answer form, Mr. Ngiam's statement  included some critical comments on the high salaries of PAP ministers, which for fear of losing them, prevented ministers from speaking up to PM Lee Hsien Loong and on the elitist nature of the PAP leadership. These and other comments, which were published in SMA newsletter in September, were hardly flattering to the PAP leadership, especially PM Lee, but they were lapped up with great delight by Singaporeans mainly because the comments were made by an author of high social standing in a prominent medical journal. From the nature of the contents of the statement, there was no question that it was made voluntarily and without any coercion. Mr. Ngiam could not have been a happier man because the statement has been in circulation for a considerable time without any unforseen incident.

What political manipulation went on in the meantime is not something which Singaporeans are privy to. Literally, out of the blue Mr. Ngiam came out with a statement yesterday (published today 12 Oct) seeking to clarify the comments he made about PAP ministers being afraid to speak up and the PAP being elitist. The million dollar question is why has Mr. Ngiam taken such a long time to make the clarification when the statement has been in circulation for some time. Of course, that this sudden turn of event has come as a disappointment to his ardent supporters is to put it mildly. PM Lee, however, showed his true colours by ever so promptly welcoming Mr. Ngiam's clarification and extolling him for his action.

The more important aspect of this whole episode is whether this bizarre behaviour of Mr. Ngiam spells the end of his courageous probing of the PAP leadership. What went on in his mind and whether there had been any political pressure on him to make the clarification is something which we may not know for some time. One thing is certain. If Mr. Ngiam chickens out, it will be quite a significant loss to opposition politics.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A nervous & fumbling Prime Minister

The question of the humongous salaries that PM Lee Hsien Loong and his self-serving ministers pay themselves from taxpayers' money has been the subject of public outrage but PM Lee and his ministers merrily continue to help themselves with the unconscionable emoluments oblivious to public outrage. This is because they are the Government and have the power to pay themselves outrageously without having to answer to the electorate that elected them. Just imagine our PM Lee drawing four to five times the salary of the President of the United States of America Mr. Barack Obama. It is preposterous for PM Lee to think that his position and responsibility are equal or superior to the American President to justify his exorbitant salary. So too are our self-serving ministers if they think they are superior to their American counterparts to justify their humongous salaries. PM Lee simply rides roughshod to any public protest.

But PM Lee shows himself to be less courageous when he faces foreign questioners on his and his ministers' astronomical salaries. In a recent interview with an astute interviewer Ms Patricia Wu of CNN, he was found to be nervous and fumbling with embarrassment when asked to comment on Singapore's lawmakers being some of the highest paid in the world and whether Washington would attract better talents if their salaries were more competitive. PM Lee was quickly put on the spot and caught off guard by Ms Patricia Wu's question. His unsteady answer was that they may have competitive salaries but were far from being the richest lawmakers in the world. They operate a clean system, an honest system, and are paid what their job is worth and what their quality is worth and are expected to perform. And if they don't, they have to go or (shrugs his shoulders) the electorate will vote them out.

Obviously not satisfied with his answer, Ms Patricia Wu pressed on with her question and before she could finish her question, PM Lee cut in and with a pained look and obvious discomfort gave a rambling irrelevant explanation. Not getting a straight answer from PM Lee, Ms Patricia Wu gave up and moved to another topic, allowing PM Lee a relief to his discomfort.

PM Lee can show some Dutch courage to Singaporeans in his unconvincing defence of the humongous salaries he and his ministers pay themselves but he is obviously cowardly and embarrassed when called upon to defend the preposterous whopping salaries in foreign countries, especially when interviewed by astute questioners. His answer can only be porous and untenable, especially if he is shown to be trying to overshadow President Barack Obama in importance and world standing. His defence that his ministers are paid for what their job is worth and what their quality is worth is so subjective that it is not worth the while demolishing it. Except for one or two non-Chinese ministers who are deemed worthy, most of them are considered run-of-the-mill calibre.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

A Contrasting Personality

The recent memorable visit of the Myanmar icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi may still be fresh in the people's mind. Since she is a renowned Myanmar politician of international standing, it was not surprising that PM Lee Hsien Loong pulled out all the stops to make her visit a historic event. In view of the fact that Daw Suu Kyi has captured the attention and affection of the world with her uncompromising struggle for democracy against the powerful military junta which had ruled Myanmar with an iron hand for decades, PM Lee would not want to miss the golden opportunity of showing his exquisite hospitality to the Myanmar herione during her short stay in Singapore to enhance his so-called international reputation. So among the programme which had been meticulously arranged for Daw Suu Kyi, there appeared to be one which had perhaps flummoxed many Singaporeans, unless it was meant as a stop-gap.

There were many who wondered what significance was there in the meeting between Ms Grace Fu, Minister in PMO and the Myanmar icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Daw Suu Kyi is a political fighter of international stature who could easily dwarfed the mediocre credentials of Ms Grace Fu, notwithstanding that she is a PAP minister. In spite of being overawed by the formidable stature of her honoured guest Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Ms Grace Fu nevertheless managed to utter a few words of friendship between Singapore and Myanmar while Daw Suu Kyi spoke with conviction about her hopes for her country and her people.

But the contrasting personalities of the two female politicians are very prominent. Ms Grace moaned about her "sacrifices" during the period of the ministerial salary review. She was reported to have said that when she entered politics in 2006, pay was not a key factor for her. The more considerations for her were the loss of privacy and personal time, public scrutiny and career disruptions. She had further said that she had ground to believe that her family would not suffer a drastic change in the standard of living even though she experienced a drop in her income. So it was with this recent pay cut. If the balance was tilted further in the future, it would make it harder for anyone considering political office. Well she is now a million-dollar PAP minister.

Daw Suu Kyi too had her sacrifices all too familiar to the world. She was compelled to forsake her husband, her two young sons and personal freedom to fight for democracy for her people. But true to her lofty character, she perceived her "sacrifices" more of a choice than a sacrifice. "If you choose to do something, then you shouldn't say it's a sacrifice because nobody forced you to do it" Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said. (This paragraph is quoted from a post "Transitional Eternity").

The contrast between these two women - one a political luminary of world renown and the other a run-of-the-mill PAP minister - is so great that one glitters like  a shinning star in the dark and the other exhibits darkness like a starless night.